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Afghan Journalists Join The Refugee Stream To Europe

Afghan journalists often risk their lives to cover news.
Afghan journalists often risk their lives to cover news.

An Afghan press watchdog says 23 Afghan media workers have embarked on a dangerous journey to Europe this week.

Nai, a Kabul-based organization that advocates for open media in Afghanistan, says the journalists left their country because of "rising insecurity, censorship, and an uncertain future."

In a statement on September 14, Nai said the media workers, most of whom worked as camera crew for various television stations in Kabul, left the Afghan capital as a single group on September 13.

One of the journalists who asked not to be identified told Nai that "the worsening security situation, little job security, no clarity about the future and censorship imposed on the media" led him to choose the risky journey over continuing to work in Kabul.

In a recent survey of 335 journalists across Afghanistan, Nai found that censorship is on the rise in the country's mushrooming media.

Nai Chief Executive Mujib Khilwatgar says a majority of journalists in the country feel they are being censored.

"Seventy-two percent [of journalists surveyed] say the government of Afghanistan is imposing censorship on them," Khilwatgar told journalists in Kabul on September 14. "Regional strongmen also impose restrictions on the press. Editors take third place in enforcing censorship, while the Taliban is the fourth."

Nai says some of the worst censorship is being imposed in the most insecure provinces where government troops often battle the insurgents.

The Afghan government, however, disputes Nai's findings. Haroon Hakimi, a spokesman for the Information and Culture Ministry, says Kabul supports press freedom.

He says government interventions are aimed at preventing sensitive information from being leaked because it could compromise the country's national interests.

"We have always tried to protect freedom of speech, but sometimes we censor reports by journalists that might undermine our society," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "These include official secrets and issues that might damage our national security."

Late last month, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned the interrogation of at least six Afghan journalists by the country's spy service, the National Department of Security.

"We call on President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah to respect the ‘pact for the protection of media and journalists’ that they undertook to implement," said Reza Moini, head of the Reporters Without Borders Afghanistan desk.

"The law on access to information, which President Ghani signed shortly after taking office in 2014, must be implemented," he demanded.

This year, Afghanistan ranked 122th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.